While some herald this past season as the last Little League season in Gulfport, both Gulfport Little League President Jon Harker and Gulfport City Manager Jim O’Reilly said such allegations are patently untrue.
This past February the Gabber reported that unless Little League enrollment did not increase, Gulfport Little League would likely combine with other cities. While some at the June 7 end-of-season ceremonies called it the “final season,” O’Reilly called that “absolutely not true.”
Gulfport Little League will combine with Southwest Little League, which it did this year to combat low enrollment. This means the boundaries for Little League stretched to include South Pasadena, Treasure Island and St. Pete Beach.
“There will still be a Gulfport Little League program as part of the combined Little League,” O’Reilly said. Looking to the future, the two combined teams could merge, a more formal action. Both boards have voted in favor of the merger, which must be sanctioned by the district office. Even with a merger, O’Reilly stresses, Gulfport kids will still have a league in which to play. Without the combination, he says, Gulfport Little League will not survive.
“I have been told by representative in District Five this is necessary for Little League to survive in southwest Pinellas County,” he said.
It comes down to numbers: not enough Gulfport kids sign up for Little League.
Joe Liberatore, the District Administrator responsible for Pinellas Little League south of Ulmerton (nine leagues in total), told the Gabber this past winter Gulfport would need to have an enrollment of at least 200 players to keep its boundaries intact.
This year, 75 kids played for Gulfport Little League, and Liberatore says combinations are frequent and non-binding.
“Lots of leagues do that every year,” Harker said. “It happens all the time. For example, if Azalea has two or three senior girls, they need at least 10.”
Lum Atkinson, the man for whom the city named its Little League ball fields, told the Gabber he wished things could stay the same for Gulfport Little League.
“I don’t like it, but I don’t know what can be done about it,” he said of the low enrollment and combination of leagues. “You can’t force kids to come out and play. You have the facilities and all of that, and they want to do something else. It’s not like it used to be.”
To O’Reilly, Harker, and others, though, what matters is not the combination or an eventual merger, but having a place for kids to play ball.
“Yes, it may have a different name,” O’Reilly said of Gulfport Little League, “but we’ll still have a place for kids to play.”
Harker says things, other than combining with Southwest Little League, are “status quo”and that Southwest Little League and Gulfport Little League will equally combine the two boards to ensure both communities have fair representation.
“We all work together,” he said. “This is to make sure Little League stays here. Little League’s not going anywhere.”
Contact Cathy Salustri at CathySalustri@theGabber.com.